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At This Hour

U.S. And Ukrainian Presidents To Meet; Lawmakers Eyeing New "Aggressor State" Label For Russia; U.S. Sending Patriot Missile Defense System To Ukraine; House Committee To Release Tax Returns Within Days; Interview With Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA) On IRS Failure To Audit Trump. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired December 21, 2022 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello, everyone. AT THIS HOUR, Ukraine's president will soon be touching down in the United States and heading to the Oval Office.

Plus, nearly every state in the country is being impacted by the blast of cold that is setting in on this official first day of winter, ironically.

Another blow to the women of Afghanistan and further proof that the Taliban is not coming even close to living up to what they have promised since taking back the country.

This is what we are watching AT THIS HOUR.


BOLDUAN: Hey, everybody. I'm Kate Bolduan. It's been 300 days since Russia launched its invasion. And today marks the first time the president is leaving his borders. He's on a mission, first meeting with President Biden at the White House, then taking questions from the press.

And then an historic address to the Congress. We don't know exactly the message. But we do know this: President Biden is preparing to announce an additional $1.8 billion in assistance to Ukraine, including the patriot Missile system that Zelenskyy has long said is critical to Ukraine's survival.

M.J., what's going to happen over there today?

M.J. LEE, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: We know this is a visit that came together in just a matter of days, a tightly held secret until basically the last minute.

The two sides have been working together for a number of days to make sensitive travel arrangements for President Zelenskyy, given that he's a wartime president and a war is ongoing in his home country. We, of course, expect President Zelenskyy to use this opportunity to

make a strong appeal not only to U.S. lawmakers but to the American public as well, reminding them that the war is ongoing and the Ukrainian people need as much help as they can get.

And President Biden is expected to announce additional aid to Ukraine. Part of that is the Patriot missile systems that Ukraine has been asking for. It's a sophisticated long-range weapon.

What we don't know is what more President Zelenskyy, in person, might ask President Biden for. U.S. officials have said that we are appearing to enter a new phase of this war. Here's John Kirby talking about it this morning.


ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: The capabilities we have been providing have evolved over time. When it first started, we were talking about the Javelin anti-tank missile, now advanced air defense, because the war has changed.

And the way Ukrainians have been attacked have changed. Air defense is of prime importance. We'll see where it goes going forward. The president has said we'll support Ukraine for as long as it takes. And he meant every word of that.


LEE: President Zelenskyy will be on U.S. soil for a matter of hours. He comes to the White House this afternoon for the big bilateral meeting, followed by a press conference. And then in the evening he will address members of Congress, leaving right afterwards, is what we are told.

We'll see what the two leaders discuss in terms of how to bring this war to an end. U.S. officials believe that Vladimir Putin is clearly not involved in engaging in that right now and diplomacy is currently not on the table.

BOLDUAN: Thank you very much, M.J..

After his White House meeting, Zelenskyy will be head to Capitol Hill. His remarks come at another critical moment of this war. U.S. lawmakers are considering a massive spending bill. In that spending bill, it includes billions of dollars additional aid for Ukraine. Manu Raju is live on Capitol Hill for us.

What will it look like up there?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This will be an historic moment. Rarely do we see foreign leaders addressing a joint meeting of Congress. And rarely do we see a wartime president do that as well.

This is why a lot of people are comparing this to when Winston Churchill came in 1941 in the midst of World War II. That happened in the Senate chamber across the Capitol.

We expect this to be a call for support, thanking the United States for standing behind Ukraine and it comes at a critical time in domestic politics here in the United States, where Republicans are, in particular, debating on how to move forward with aid to Ukraine.


RAJU: And whether to continue the aid we have seen that has come from Congress, especially as they take power in the House next year. That is one area in which Mitch McConnell has tried to encourage and rally his own conference and Republicans behind the idea of continuing aid to Ukraine, arguing that it is vital.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Continuing our support for Ukraine is morally right. But it's not only that, it's also a direct investment in cold, hard American interests.


RAJU: This comes as $45 billion in aid to Ukraine has been rolled into the larger $1.7 trillion bill to keep the government open. Kate, that bill could pass the Senate today and over to the House, where Republican leaders are whipping against the bill.

BOLDUAN: A critical juncture and, as you perfectly laid out, a really historic moment will play out this evening and a surprise to many of us that it's even happening.

With this visit as the backdrop, there's new CNN reporting that the White House and Democratic lawmakers have been working for months on a move to formally designate Russia as an aggressor state.

Natasha, you're learning from sources that folks in Washington are waiting to hear from Zelenskyy on this before moving ahead.

What would this designation mean?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: This would allow the president to have greater authority to sanction additional Russian entities for doing things that constitute an aggressor state.

What that means and how it's laid out in the draft proposal we obtained is basically things like undermining Ukraine's territorial sovereignty, interfering with its democracy and all things that Russia has done.

But there's a lot of debate whether that's the best way to hold Russia accountable. It is fundamentally a compromise that the administration is making with lawmakers, who actually wanted to see the administration designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Therefore, you know, have the United States phase out those sanctions in order to incentivize Russia to do that. There's a lot of questions about whether President Zelenskyy, when he comes to Congress tonight, will endorse this idea.

Lawmakers are waiting. And Nancy Pelosi in particular is waiting to see whether he does that. If she does, we're told, this could be introduced by her as a stand-alone bill and Russia could be designated as this aggressor state.

BOLDUAN: Natasha, great reporting, thanks so much.

Joining me is David Sanger, White House and national security correspondent for "The New York Times" and Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling.

David, first on what Natasha was reporting, what are you hearing about this aggressor state designation?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, one of the problems with naming them as a state sponsor of terror, though they would certainly fit the bill, given the attacks on the infrastructure, then it triggers a whole series of additional sanctioning.

Some of this may make it more difficult to have some flexibility in how you deal with financial transfers. So the administration was trying to avoid that but still get Congress a way to sort of vent their views on Russia.

This is the wording. It would carry with it a sense of the Congress but really would not trigger any specific kinds of action. It's not an unfamiliar problem.

BOLDUAN: General, when it comes to actionable support from the United States, which is what Ukraine is looking for, of course, do you see the designation significant at all or just window dressing?



HERTLING: The state sponsor of terrorism moniker requires certain things. The designation of aggressor state gives you more leeway.

Just listening to your report that some congressional members say President Biden isn't holding Russia accountable, that is a ludicrous statement because of the previous things this administration has done against the Russian state.

But this gives the president and his administration much more flexibility in what they can and can't do. I think he'll convince President Zelenskyy that this is the best approach to take.

BOLDUAN: David, this also -- it is what it is -- this is a big deal that Zelenskyy is coming to the United States for this meeting. And his remarks, leaving his country for the first time since the Russian invasion began.

What does today's White House meeting and address to Congress mean? SANGER: The first and most important symbolic element, Zelenskyy was not supposed to be alive according to the Russian plan. So the very fact that he's showing up in the Oval Office and then addressing a joint session of Congress is really meant as a message to sort of drive home the humiliation of the Russian military for their inability to take over Ukraine.

Second, it's supposed to be a thanks. I think President Biden has at times believed that Zelenskyy was not sufficiently grateful for what he's getting.

Thirdly, it's supposed to whip up some support for continued aid. But then I think the most important thing is to sort of turn a corner, Kate, and get people accustomed to the fact that this could be a very, very long war. That means moving to a position of supporting Ukraine for years, not just for months.

BOLDUAN: At a moment when there will be a fundamental shift when it comes to the purse strings and who controls the purse strings in Washington. That could be part of it as well. He will be speaking not just to Democratic majorities in Congress but to a Republican majority when talking about long-term support for Ukraine.

General, this week --


HERTLING: -- hey, can I tack to what David said?

BOLDUAN: Of course.

HERTLING: I think it's important what David said. This is not only from the standpoint of an embarrassment of the Russian military but President Zelenskyy was just on the battle front, giving awards to soldiers.

He will be greeted by an audience that's supporting him. At the same time Putin and his defense minister were in Belarus, begging for assistance. It's a stark contrast.

BOLDUAN: It's not often I get to say I'm having a mindmeld with great men like you but that's what I was going to ask you, the split screen of Putin in brush. I love when you steal my thunder. Steal it at any time.

Let me ask you then, David, the president is announcing today he's -- they're going to be sending the Patriot missile system to Ukraine. Given how sophisticated this is, you said this is a pretty expensive way to defend their infrastructure.

Is your reporting is they're seeing it as less of what Ukraine is defending against now and more what they think or fear could be coming?

SANGER: Exactly, Kate. They've had to go deal with incoming missile attacks, of course and then these Iranian-supplied drones. What they are worried about is you can see Russia begin to use more strategic weapons.

You could see them use Iranian cruise missiles. We haven't seen that yet. Iranian precision missiles as well. And so I think this is going to be largely about the defense of Kyiv, the capital.

It's not going to end up making a big difference, I think, to those various parts of the country where you have seen the drone attacks. Also, it's been very hard to come up with a Patriot battery. There aren't very many of them.


SANGER: So I suspect you'll see announcements from other countries that are announcing Patriot-like systems they'll deploy at the same time. The U.S. has not wanted to do this alone.

BOLDUAN: General, the administration has been hesitant. I've heard from some military analysts, they're saying why has this not happened a long time ago.

What do you think -- what do you think of this move, this announcement now, what kind of response it will provoke from Russia?

HERTLING: I keep doing this and will say there better be some expectation management. It will take a long time to get these employed. The soldiers and suppliers trained on them, I'm not talking weeks, I'm talking months.

As David said, this is a point defense system and this is one battery. That's a company-level organization that has between six and eight launchers, one massive control system and a massive radar system.

It just takes a lot of time to understand and use. Yet I know Ukraine has proven themselves to be great on the battlefield. But they can't just fall in on this piece of equipment. And this piece of equipment can't move around. It's a stationary point defense capability.

I will add again to what David said. I think this is a push and a wedge to have Secretary Austin go back to the Ramstein group and said, we provided a one of a kind -- there are no other weapons like this in the world.

We provided a one of a kind system to Ukraine. Some of you other folks better start ponying up low and medium-range systems.

Lastly, Patriot is a defensive weapons systems. You don't win wars on the defense. What I would be looking at is not so much Patriot as what's coming next with this big package, the capability of putting together combined arms teams to conduct offensive operations by Ukraine in the southeast and the east, potentially stopping any kind of aggression that may come from Belarus in the north. That's what I'm look looking like for.

BOLDUAN: Great to have both of you on this day. I really appreciate it.

SANGER: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Donald Trump was the first elected president since Nixon to not volunteer his tax returns. After years of legal battles, Congress is forcing the matter. A member of the committee that just voted to make a slew of those tax returns public, joins us.





BOLDUAN: Six years of Donald Trump's tax returns are set to be released in the coming days. That is because the powerful House Ways and Means Committee voted along party lines to make it happen.

So what are people going to learn from all of this?

Lauren Fox is on the Hill for us, tracking this down.

What have you learned so far?

There's much yet to be learned, of course, but what have you learned so far?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so the first question, of course, on everyone's minds, when will they look at the tax returns that they voted to release last night? That's going to just take time, because there's redactions that have to happen.

We expect to see those returns in the upcoming days. What we are learning based on two reports, both from the House Ways and Means Committee, as well as the joint committee on taxation, is just a fuller picture of the former president's tax practices.

One thing that became clear is the IRS did not follow its own protocols when it came to auditing an incoming president, using what they call the mandatory audit program. What's supposed to happen is when a new president and vice president come in, their taxes are supposed to be reviewed.

But according to the Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee, that did not happen for the first two years, it only happened after the chairman of the committee requested Trump's tax returns for six years, arguing he needed to see them so he could understand if the program was working properly.

BOLDUAN: Lauren Fox, thank you so much.

Joining me is Brendan Boyle. He voted last night to have the records released.

Thank you for being here. We know there are legal restraints on what you all could and could not say and talk about in what you've seen in the tax -- what you see in tax and financial information that comes before the committee.

That has applied to the Trump tax returns throughout this years-long fight.

Now that you have voted to release them, what more can you tell us about them?

REP. BRENDAN BOYLE (D-PA), MEMBER, HOUSE WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE: Well, first I can completely verify everything that Lauren just said. It is true that both the House Ways and Means Committee report as well as the nonpartisan joint committee on taxation found shockingly that the IRS was not doing its job.

Why weren't they auditing the returns of president Trump for two full years?


BOYLE: Why did they only start literally the day that our committee's chairman sent the letter requesting this information in April 2019?

That is very suspicious.

Were they just grossly incompetent?

Was something more nefarious going on?

That clearly needs to be examined.

And as the reports indicated and now I can talk about, there's hundreds of millions of dollars of unsubstantiated deductions taken by the former president that shockingly the IRS didn't ask for any further proof of.

I have constituents here in Philadelphia, who are grilled if they're applying for the Earned Income Tax Credit, some 33 percent get audited. Here you have someone clearly in the top 1 percent, claiming hundreds of millions of dollars tax deductions and the IRS just didn't even look for further information. So there is a lot here. Of course, the full tax returns will become public in the next several days.

BOLDUAN: Do you think there's something that needs to be further looked at, not on the part of the IRS but on the part of what he's put in his tax returns?

Or do you think it's more to do with what his tax returns represent is legal, people can have opinions on if they think it's right but if it's legal, it's just that the IRS did not follow through?

BOYLE: I would refer to what the, again, nonpartisan joint committee on taxation found. They found a lot of areas where the IRS should be following up and where more information is clearly needed to substantiate the sort of things that former president Trump claimed.

Another area, for example -- I haven't seen this discussed much in public -- all of these single-member, what we call sole proprietorships that he created, they had no revenue and only expenses.

You can't deduct personal expenses as if they're business expenses. That was a routine practice that he was doing, again, into millions of dollars. These are clear red flags that the joint committee found.

BOLDUAN: I want to talk about the Republicans on the committee, calling it a dangerous new political weapon. I want to play what Kevin Brady said.


REP. KEVIN BRADY (R-TX): The era of political targeting and of Congress' enemies list is back. Every American who may get on the wrong side of the majority in Congress is now at risk.


BOLDUAN: How do you respond to that, congressman?

BOYLE: It's completely false, because what Kevin Brady left out is the Supreme Court, a Republican-dominated Supreme Court, ruled on November 22nd in our favor. They found we had a legitimate legislative purpose to pursue this.

So in the future, if this hypothetical were to take place, where some future majority wanted the tax returns of a business leader or political leader, they would have to demonstrate a legitimate legislative interest. That's a high bar to accede.

We were able to accede it, a Republican-dominated Supreme Court found in our favor. And the fact that what we uncovered, showing that the IRS was not doing its job in auditing a president's tax returns really does vindicate the last several years that we've been on this pursuit.

BOLDUAN: A lot of people see the timing of when this vote occurred at the tail end of when the Democrats have a majority in the House, they see it as suspect and telling. I know the chairman of the committee said this is about the presidency, not about the former president.

But was the quest to get these tax returns and to release them to the public, was it motivated by politics?

BOYLE: The timing was not our choosing. It was dictated by how long it took to resolve in courts. We were sued by Trump. It went all the way to the Supreme Court. The initial federal judge sat on this for about 2.5 years.

Frankly, I would have liked this in the public domain years ago, when we began the pursuit and we took over the majority in early 2019. As far as whether or not it's political, suppose this was released a few months ago, before the election.

The other side would be saying it's political to influence an election. So I think they would have made this claim anytime the information came out.

BOLDUAN: Thank you for the time. Appreciate it.

BOYLE: Thank you.